Barty’s Consistency Too Much For Krejcikova At Western & Southern Open

Ashleigh Barty (photo: @CincyTennis/Twitter)

MASON, OHIO/WASHINGTON, August 21, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

What a difference a year makes. Just ask the Czech Republic’s Barbora Krejcikova, who a year ago was ranked 118th among WTA singles players and shut out from direct entry into the biggest of the North American hard court season, the Western & Southern Open and the US Open. Rather than qualify, she stayed close to home and played a trio of ITF $25K clay tournaments with mixed results.

Fast forward, and Krejcikova is ranked No. 10 in the world – the first time in her career she’s attained a Top-10 ranking – and, arguably, is one of the hottest players in the sport. She’s the reigning French Open champion and an Olympic gold medalist in doubles and has won three WTA titles this season.

On Friday, the 25-year-old Krejcikova found herself on Center Court at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, Ohio across the net from playing World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty in the quarterfinal round of the Western & Southern Open, a WTA 1000-series event, after rallying to beat World No. 9 Garbiñe Muguruza 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-2 on Thursday.

Barty, who has been ranked No. 1 for 82 straight weeks, arrived following an easy 6-0, 6-2 win over No. 14 seed Victoria Azarenka. She’d won 29 of her last 34 matches and was 13-1 against Top 20 competition. In their only previous meeting, Barty defeated Krejcikova 7-5, 6-3 in the fourth round at Wimbledon en route to winning her second major title.

With 75 wins and seven titles between them – and having won the last two majors – the Barty-Krejcikova match promised a cerebral, big-hitting matchup. It would be interesting to see who could dial it in and be the iron person – and win big points, too. On this day, it was Barty, who won 6-2, 6-4 in an hour and 11 minutes on a sunny (81º Fahrenheit) and humid afternoon. The victory kept alive her chance at winning a fifth WTA singles title this season.

“It was Barty, again, who got the better of Krejcikova,” said Tennis Channel analyst Chanda Rubin. “She played such solid and composed tennis from the start – even after getting down a break in the second set. She didn’t panic and was able to recover. She used her forehand as a big weapon and that’s a real feel-good win because Krejcikova had been playing some really good tennis.”

Barty served an ace on the first point and jumped ahead with an early service break for a 3-1 lead. She faced no break points during her four service games. Then, Barty broke Krejcikova for a second time at 30-40 when the Czech star netted a backhand volley that gave the Aussie the 31-minute opener 6-2.

Next, Krejcikova (now 20-7 on hard courts this season) countered with an early break of her own for a 2-1 lead as she began to strike the ball big and moved Barty around the court with her forehand. She consolidated the break for a 3-1 lead with her eye on sending the match to a decider. However, Barty had other ideas. She broke back to level the set at 4-all – serving well when it mattered most – and pounced on the opportunity to consolidate and did so with a service winner to go ahead 5-4. Just one game away from reaching the semifinals, Barty broke Krejcikova one final time to win and showed once again a form of consistency that’s difficult for any to rival. Krejcikova just could find her highest level today.

Barty was asked during her on-court interview how she managed to turn around the second set and win in straight sets. “Barbora served exceptionally well early in the second set and was able to take advantage of a service game of mine where I hit way too many second serves. I wanted to get a little more positive on her service games and try to get myself into the points a little more. I’m happy I was able to win in the end.”

Barty finished with seven aces and hit 18 winners and 20 unforced errors. Krejcikova countered with two aces and 14 winners but committed 25 unforced errors. Barty converted four of eight break points while surrendering just one break of her serve. Barty outpointed her opponent 57-44 to advance against Angelique Kerber.

• World No. 22 Angelique Kerber of Germany is through to her third consecutive semifinal after No. 11 seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic retired at 3-all in the second set after Kerber won the first set 6-4.

With the heat and humidity overwhelming at times, Kvitova took a medical time out during the fifth game change over for what appeared to be an abdominal condition. She returned for one additional game but to no avail. At the time of the retirement, Kerber had hit eight winners and made nine unforced errors, while Kvitova had 27 winners and 23 unforced erorrs. Kerber was ahead on points, 56-51. Now, the German No. 1 has won 14 of her last 15 matches. That one loss? Against Barty in the Wimbledon semifinals last month.

While Krejcikova was unable to master Barty, Kerber will get her chance in the semifinals on Saturday. She’s 3-3 lifetime against Barty.

Neither a broken shoelace or Paire can stop Rublev

Fourth seed Andrey Rublev reached his third ATP Masters 1000 semifinal this season in six quarterfinal tries after beating a resurgent Benoit Paire of France, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in an entertaining first men’s quarterfinal-round match of the day, in which the young Russian had to scramble to replace a broken shoelace late in the match. Paire was making his second career ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal appearance and first since 2013.

While the 50th-ranked Paire has been “an enigma wrapped up in a riddle,” as Tennis Channel commentator Ted Robinson described the Frenchman’s up-and-down-and-all-around season during his broadcast, he did make Rublev work for his victory. The two were all smiles at the net afterward.

Rublev, whose first serve got him out of trouble, hit back-to-back aces to secure his quarterfinal win. He finished with 13 aces and 30 winners and won 84 percent (37 of 44) of his first-serve points during his one hour and 39-minute match on Center Court, which advanced him to face fellow Russian and No. 1 seed Daniil Medvedev.

“It was super tough, especially after the first set, when I couldn’t make my chances and he started playing better,” Rublev said on-court during a post-match interview. “He started enjoying the atmosphere of the crowd and making shots – winners, rallies and serves.

“It was not easy to find the point to take [back] the advantage of the match. In the third set, I focused on trying to be more calm, to not make stupid mistakes. It was super tough in the end to beat him. Somehow, I managed.”

• World No. 2 and top seed Daniil Medvedev gained revenge on No. 7 seed Pablo Carreño Busta for the loss he incurred to the Olympic bronze medalist at the Tokyo Olympics last month. It came in the form of a 6-1, 6-1 thrashing the Russian gave the Spaniard that was over in 54 minutes. It was Medvedev’s second straight win this week in under an hour. On Thursday, he beat Grigor Dimitrov in 59 minutes.

Medvedev hit 20 winners, including nine aces, and dominated on his serve, winning 92 percent (24 of 26) of his first-serve points. He played nearly flawless tennis. Meanwhile, Carreño Busta managed just seven winners and committed 24 unforced errors. He doubled-faulted away match point at the end. Medvedev has won eight in a row since his Olympics loss.

“It’s why I love tennis. Tennis is made up of many, many different small details: different conditions, different balls, different atmosphere,” Medvedev explained during his on-court interview after his quarterfinal victory. “Some days, you’re felling better than other ones. Pablo didn’t play as good as he did at the Olympics, I played much better than I did there. I’ll be 100 percent honest. I would rather win there, but that’s tennis. I’m happy to win here and gain a little revenge.”

Tsitsipas, Zverev win to round out men’s final four

In the end, World No. 3 and second seed Stefanos Tsitsipas kept his focus against No. 12 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada. Despite squandering two match points in the second set, the rising Greek star defeated Auger-Aliassime, 6-2, 5-7, 6-1, after two hours and 12 minutes in back of hitting 22 winners to reach the Cincinnati semifinals for the second consecutive year. It was his fifth straight win over the Canadian.

“Tennis is a psychological game and things like this happen. It’s important to just stick to your roots and what you are doing best,” Tsitsipas explained in his on-court interview. “It might not have been ideal in the second set, especially when I made so many opportunities and had such a good opportunity to close it a bit earlier. But with a lot of patience and just trying to find that opportunity in the third set, I was stepping in, I was really determined and I didn’t let go.”

In Saturday’s second semifinal, Tsitsipas will face Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Alexander Zverev, who turned back No. 8 seed Casper Ruud of Norway, 6-1, 6-3, in an hour. The third seed from Germany hit six aces and 18 winners and won 88 percent (23 of 26) of his first-serve points en route to his victory. He outpointed Ruud, who hit just seven winners, 53-29. Tsitsipas leads Zverev 6-2 in their career head-to-head rivalry.

Zverev has now reached the quarterfinals or better in eight of the nine Masters 1000 events (except Indian Wells). His win over Ruud extended  his winning streak to nine matches, which began at the start of the Olympic Tennis Event. The World No. 5 has won three titles this year, including the Masters 1000 crown in Madrid.

Zverev was asked about his semifinal showdown with Tsitsipas. He said: “The matches are not going to get easier. I think Stef is somebody who is in incredible form right now and he’s looking forward to playing this match as well because we’re right in front of the US Open. We should be playing our best tennis, and I think it’s going to be entertaining for all of us.

“When you’re in the semifinals of a Masters, you’re playing your best tennis. I just feel like when I’m playing at my best, I can compete and beat anybody. But I think Stef feels the same way. The better player will win tomorrow and I’m looking forward to that.”

Teichmann upsets Bencic, to face Pliskova next

A day after beating World No. 2 Naomi Osaka for her career-best win, 76th-ranked wild card Jil Teichmann of Switzerland pulled off another upset. This time, she beat fellow countrywoman and Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Belinda Bencic, 6-3, 6-2, in 71 minutes.

Teichmann hit 23 winners and her hustle and grit contributed toward Bencic committing 21 unforced errors and failing to convert any of five break-point opportunities. Teichmann outpointed Bencic 66-41.

“We hugged before the match; we hugged after the match,” Teichmann said during her press conference after her victory against her friend, the 10th seed Bencic. “We know that once we step on court it’s business, it’s just another player I have to deal with, and she had the same mindset. At the beginning it’s obviously a bit special, but once we’re in it, we just look at the game, not looking at the opponent, or at least I do that way.”

Next, Teichmann will face No. 5 seed and 2016 Cincinnati champion Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic. Pliskova advanced after No. 29 Paula Badosa of Spain retired with a right shoulder injury early in the second set. After trailing 0-4 to start the match, Pliskova led 7-5, 2-0 after an hour and 14 minutes to reach her third Western & Southern semifinal.

Friday’s Western & Southern Open results

Saturday’s Western & Southern Open order of play

By the numbers

” Quotable …”

“We’ve played a lot of times already. So far, I haven’t lost [to him] … but he’s been playing great since the re-start of tennis. Almost no ups and downs, only ups. It’s going to be a tough match. It’s great to have an all-Russian semifinal in Cincinnati. Of course, I want to be on top.”

Daniil Medvedev looking ahead to his Saturday singles semifinal against fellow Russian Andrey Rublev.